Reviews: Judge Dredd
I got this from Waterstones, a few weeks ago, and all I can say is... Wow. America is often regarded as one of the best Dredd comics ever and it more than lives up to the hype. In the 70s and 80s, Dredd was, most of the time, a straightforward Action Hero. Sure, he had some morally ambiguous moments such as the Apocalypse War, but America really hits home the truth about the Judges' rule: it is a horrifying fascist police state. The city is shown through the eyes of an ordinary citizen, from birth to their tragic death. TL;DR: Buy it. 5 Stars.
Complete Case Files 07 [progs 322 - 375]]
Hmm. Volume 7. Not really a lot to recommend about this one. By that, I don't mean the stories in here are bad. They do what they set out to do pretty well, but nothing really stands out and makes me go "Hell yeah! That's awesome!" This volume is an inch thick, like the full-length prior volumes, but there is not grand epic within it. The longest story it contains is "Cry of the Werewolf", which clocks in at just eight instalments and features Dredd becoming a werewolf. This story is notable for being the first appearance of Judge Prager, a retired judge to took the Long Walk into the Undercity instead of the Cursed Earth, and who will be an important supporting character in future instalments. I believe this also marks the first appearance of the Undercity itself, but I might be wrong. The most interesting story to me is "The Graveyard Shift." Where most stories focus on Dredd investigating a single case, this follows him through a single night in Mega-City One as he interacts with other judges and deals with crimes as they come up. Plot threads weave in and out of the narrative, waxing and waning in importance as time goes one. It's an interesting approach to storytelling, and pays off well, with a differently-paced plot that shows what the life of a judge is really like by taking it in its totality, rather than just the investigation of a single crime at a time. Also of note in "The Graveyard Shift" is that we see Anderson carrying out normal Psi-Div duties, in this case probing a corpse for the victim's last memories. This is something we rarely see; normally, Anderson is called in to deal with some epic supernatural threat, so it's refreshing to see her performing everyday tasks. This, again, feeds into the fact that we are seeing an everynight sequence of events, and not just an edited highlight. Other than those, however, I struggle to remember any other stories. There is certainly fine storytelling throughout this volume, but little of it is truly memorable. Really, this is one for the fans. Get it if you like Dredd, and you will enjoy it. If you're not a fan, you probably won't get much out of this.
Complete Case Files 06 [progs 271 - 321]
Covering just under one year, volume 6 is concerned almost entirely with the aftermath of the Apocalypse War. The big theme of this volume is the devastation which lasts long after the end of a war. It starts off with Dredd breaking up a Robot Republic that has arisen in the rubble of Mega-City One. After that, it introduces the Fatties, enormously fat individuals who are one of the comic's most famous elements. One of the best stories is the three-parter "Fungus", in which a fatal and highly contagious mutant fungus is spread around Mega-City One. One of Justice Department's med division makes the ultimae sacrifice in a truly harrowing sequence, and at the end, new Chief Judge McGruder sentences all the infectees to death to prevent the infection from spreading. The one-issue "Gunge" revisits Otto Sump, who has developed a cheap, tasty, highly nutritious range of foods which is opposed by the city's upper crust. There's some decent satire here, mostly on advetising and branding. Fortunately, it's done in a subtle enough manner that the story is still enjoyable. Later in the volume comes "Shanty Town" in which groups of refugees without the Judges to oversee them descend into lawlessness and violence, which brings home the lesson that, while the Judge System is horrible, the alternative is probably worse. The most notable story is the eight-part "Destiny's Angels", in which Fink escapes from prison. Meanwhile, the Judge Child resurrects Mean and sends him to Earth to team up with Fink and kill Dredd. It's a good action story, with some nice dark humour from the Angels, and the Judge Child's final fate sets up next volume's "City of the Damned". "The Last Invader" concerns a surviving Sov Judge in Mega-City One, not realising the war is over. This is one of the darker stories, showing a man who is honourable in his own way, driven insane by loyalty to his own country to wage war against a state that no longer bears him ill will. Finally, we get "Condo", a story about societal breakdown as a result of the class conflict brought on by Judicial order. The morality of this last story is profoundly ambiguous, making it very much a quintessential Dredd story. The only real flaw with this volume is that it is only as long as volume 3, yet costs as much as the full-length black and white volumes.
Complete Case Files 05 [progs 208 - 270]
Volume 5 is probably the best Judge Dredd collection so far released, and it's also a great place to start with the series. It starts off with "The Mega-Rackets", a long series of 2-3 part stories examining the various crimes that take place in Mega-City One, and what the Judges do about them. The stories are mostly unconnected, though there is an overarcing progression of events to them, as Wagner and Grant take a leaf from Chris Carter's book and have character from earlier stories show up in later ones. Meanwhile, we see things like Dredd sending a man to jail who turned to crime in desperation as the only way to pay for his sick wife's treatment, while the crime boss goes free due to lack of evidence. Immediately after that is the five-part "Judge Death Lives!", an all-action story gorgeously drawn by Brian Bolland in which Judge Death's buddies appear to revive him and slaughter Mega-City One. Anderson comes out of her coma, and this story has the famous "Gaze into the fist of Dredd!" panel. Other notable stories include "The Hot-dog Run", in which Dredd and Giant lead a group of cadets into the Cursed Earth on a training exercise. The bulk of this volume is devoted to the Apocalypse War, which comes in two parts. The first, "Block Mania", drawn in Mike McMahon's trademark chunky style, sees Mega-City One descend into chaos as all the citi-blocks start fighting each other in a massive battle royale, with the Judges unable to cope with such a massive outbreak. This turns out to be the work of Orlok, a Sov agent who would go on to become a recurring antagonist in the future. However, this is but a prelude to the epic spectacle that is "The Apocalypse War". With Mega-City One in chaos, East-Meg One launches a huge nuclear strike followed by a massive ground assault. Carlos Ezquerra returns to draw all 26 parts of this epic story, which features such events as Dredd euthanising a group of refugees because they have radiation sickness and the Judges can't spare the medicine, collaborators being buries in mass graves, and finally, Dredd personally nuking East-Meg One into oblivion. Garth Ennis identified this as one of the defining moments of his life. (Just try not to worry about the USSR surviving into the 22nd century).
Complete Case Files 04 [Progs 156 - 207]
Volume 4 opens with the "Judge Child" epic, a 26-part story from 1980 whose resolution would have repurcussions across the next two volumes and influence stories up to 2007. This time round, John Wagner takes on writing duties for a trek across the Cursed Earth, reminiscent of Pat Mills' "The Cursed Earth." However, where Mills' epic took a group of travellers through a series of vignettes with a road trip as the backdrop, Wagner's just has Dredd, and rather than a set of two-part stories, the first six parts of Wagner's tale form a continuous narrative as Dredd searches through the Cursed Earth for Owen Krysler, the titular Judge Child. During this time, we are introduced to the Angel gang, a popular family of villains one of whom, Mean Machine, would go on to become one of the comic's most iconic villains. After six issues of searching the desert, Dredd gets on a spaceship with two other Judges and jets off across the galaxy in search of Krysler. At this point, the narrative becomes a little unravelled, taking on a more episodic structure similar to that of "The Cursed Earth". While these stories are decent, they seem to lack the scale and tightness of the first six parts, and at times seem to resort to Wacky Wayside Tribes to bump the prog count up to 26. That said, the final showdown against the Angel Gang is a definite return to form for Wagner. Following that, there is a series of short procedurals and various explorations of criminal and civilian life in Mega-City One, as well as the appearance of Fink Angel, estranged member of the Angel gang, who provides the gang's backstory. Other stories build up to the Apocalypse War in the next volume, and revisit Otto Sump, the hard luck case turned billionaire from volume 3. Of particular note is that this volume introduces Judges Hershey and McGruder, who would be major supporting characters in the future, as well as Chopper, the most unambiguously heroic of the recurring antagonists. Indeed, this volume for the first time portrays the Judges as outright villains, though there are still plenty of stories where Dredd is the hero. All in all, a decent collection, and a good starting point for new readers.
Complete Case Files 03 [progs116 - 154]
Following the epic events of volume 02, volume 03 of Judge Dredd returns to the shorter stories of volume 01. There aren't any stories in here that last longer than four progs, or about the length of one monthly American comic. That said, what's in here is decent, and is streets ahead of volume 01. Parts of this book read almost like a deconstruction of volume 01. Whereas before the fact that robots did everything was portrayed as utopian, here, it turns out that this situation leads to mass unemployment, and the ensuing boredom is the root cause of Mega-City One's massive crime rate. This then forms an easy to understand commentary on social issues facing Britain in the late 70s and early 80s We also get to see Dredd's softer side as, when a group of recently unemployed smash up some robots so they can work, Dredd sentences them to 15 years hard labour in the Cursed Earth, much to their delight. At the same time, he tries to be a role model to Rico's daughter, Vienna, but decides to stop seeing her in case she is kidnapped. The most notable story in this collection is the appearance of Judge Death, the series' most iconic antagonist. While Death may have been degraded in later stories, in his first appearance, he is a genuinely fearsome and scary being who cannot be permanently killed. This story also introduces Judge Anderson, who will go on to become a major supporting character and even get her own spinoff series. The main flaw with this collection is that it is rather short. At about half the length of volumes 01 and 02, while still being in black and white on non-glossy paper, €24 (£15) feels rather stiff. Given what's in volume 04, I can understand why Rebellion made this volume so short; still, it's a pity, because if it was more reasonably priced, it would have been a great introduction to Judge Dredd.
Complete Case Files 02 [progs 61 - 115]
After the disappointment of volume 1, volume 2 kicks Dredd into higher gear. This volume collects the first two proper epics, "The Cursed Earth" and "The Day the Law Died". These display the two contrasting varieties of epics that appear in Dredd. In Pat Mills' "The Cursed Earth", Dredd and Spikes Harvey Rotten, later joined by their new friend Tweak, must travel across the Cursed Earth to deliver anti-zombie medicine to Mega-City Two. En route, they encounter the ruins of old America, while Mills takes the opportunity to comment on issues such as slavery, commercialism, and human cloning. The overall structure is a series of short stories told against the backdrop of a journey across a devastated America. This arc also featured a dinosaur wildlife park 12 years before Jurassic Park. Though dialogue is at time stilted, the ending is a thing of beauty, as Dredd and Tweak drag themselves across the radioactive wasteland while Spikes, who has become a surprisingly deep and sympathetic character, makes a heartbreaking last stand. It should be noted that four instalments could not be reprinted due to trademark issues. However, their absence doesn't really hurt the story, as neither really has any effect on the overall plot. Also, two of those, which concern a war between McDonald's and Burger King, were pretty silly. As soon as Dredd gets back to Mega-City Ones,he finds himself embroiled in the next episode, John Wagner's "The Day the Law Died", in which he is framed for murder and must then lead a rag-tag group of rebels against the rule of the insane Chief Judge Cal. Rather than serving as a backdrop to other stories, "The Day the Law Died" is a single, continuous narrative which is good to read in a single sitting. Brian Bolland and Ron Smith lend detailed and clean-cut styles to this tale, which suits it perfectly. Cal is convincing as an insane tyrant, and even the fact that he gets Justice Department on his side is shown to make sense. The Kleggs do rather come out of nowhere, but the story is still enjoyable with them in it. One possible flaw is that, to keep costs down, some pages that were originally printed in colour are presented here in black and white. Fortunately, they're done competently enough that the difference isn't noticeable or jarring.
Complete Case Files 01 [progs 2 - 60]
With volume 1 of The Complete Case Files, Rebellion begins its grand reprinting of (almost) every Judge Dredd story right from the very beginning. This sets the stage for many of the reprints to come - roughly an inch thick, and for about the same price as an average trade paperback. This covers the early days, when instalments were generally limited to four pages, and the dialogue could be astonishingly stilted. Dredd ends each story with a short speech about how awesome the law is and how evil criminals are; each story has to start by reminding the audience of the premise, and since few stories last longer than one instalment, this quickly starts to wear thin. Early strips display elements which would be quietly dropped as the series found its voice, such as non-Judge cops and the idea that the people of Mega-City One would refuse to work more than three hours a week. Pat Mills forced the writers to portray Dredd as an unambiguous hero, in contrast to the fascist that John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra originally imagined. Some of the extended stories are of note. We meet Rico for the first time, which also shows what happens when Judges go bad. An extended story concerns Call-Me-Kenneth's first robot war, which unfortunately is a very straightforward and stilted "evil robots wrongfully turn against their mighty humans masters" story. This one also introduces Walter, who to fans' annoyance would go on to become an important character. Wagner returns about 1/3 of the way through and toes Mills' line for a while, but soon manages to rework Dredd into something more resembling his original vision. The dialogue also improves. At the end, Dredd goes off on a temporary assignment on the Moon, where Wagner gives us a fun space western with occasionally serious (albeit ham-fisted) morals. Following this, he returns to the Big Meg for a humorous story about just how Lawful Neutral he really is. The tome is padded out by a series of one-page Walter the Wobot strips, which are actually pretty funny. There is also Wagner and Ezquerra's previously-unpublished pilot strip, in which Dredd is much more of the homourless bastard we all know and loved. In conclusion, this is of interest to dedicated fans, but it's a bad place to start for people looking to get started.